An insider’s guide to the Grand Canyon
Six million people visit the Grand Canyon annually, making it one of the nation’s most popular National Parks. Want to make your trip special? Read on for insight from Grand Canyon insider Kirby Shedlowski, the park’s public affairs officer and spokesperson.
What’s it like to live at the Grand Canyon Village?
It’s a very unique experience. There are about 2,500 full time residents of Grand Canyon Village. Due to our location, 90-minute drive from Flagstaff, most of the employees live within the park boundary. We have a K-12 school, clinic, day-care, library, post office and bank.
I moved from the Baltimore/DC area and needed to learn simple things like grocery shopping for more than one meal at a time. It can be overwhelming when the park is super busy, but it is an amazing experience to wake up after a snow fall and walk to the rim and be one of a handful of people out and about.
The south rim entrance is busier than the north. What are the pros and cons for visiting each?
The South Rim is open year round, which is why more people visit. It is also closer to Flagstaff, Phoenix, and Las Vegas. As the primary center for visitors, there are several lodges in the park, restaurants, bike rental, shuttle bus system, etc.
If you want a less commercial experience, a trip to the north rim would be great. It’s only open seasonally (May 15-Oct 15).
What would you suggest visitors do if they have a day/weekend or week to spend at the park?
With a full day at Grand Canyon, you can get a lot under your belt!
- View the short orientation film at the Visitor’s Center
- Walk to Mather Point, one of the most popular overlooks.
- Take the shuttle to Hermit’s Rest. You can walk all or sections of the trail and hop on/off the shuttle bus.
- Drive to Desert View by way of East Rim Drive for some spectacular views.
- Visit Tusayan Museum and Ruins and take a guided or self-guided tour.
- Visit the historic Watchtower.
- In addition to the above- if you have two full days at the Canyon, rent a bicycle or bring your own! You can bike West Rim Drive. All of the park shuttle buses have bike racks.
- Adventurous types will love a short day hike into the Canyon. Please note that hiking in the Canyon is like no other hiking. Even extremely fit people can have difficulty, based on incline, weather, trail conditions, etc. We never advise hiking to the river and back in one day. The rule of thumb is that however long it takes you to hike into your destination, plan on twice the time to hike out. Remember hiking in is optional, hiking out is mandatory.
All of the above, plus:
- Try to visit both rims. Doing some day hikes on some of the lesser known trails can get you a perspective on the canyon that fewer people see. Make sure you are prepared to carry water. Many trails do not have filling stations.
- Take a mule ride, offered at both rims.
- Learn about the 11 affiliated tribes that call the Grand Canyon home. Consider a day trip to one of the reservations!
What are the best day hikes?
- Mile and a Half Rest House (1.5 miles down the trail) or 3-Mile Rest House (3 miles down the trail) on the Bright Angel Trail.
- Ooh Ahh Point (just under 1 mile);
- Cedar Ridge (1.5 miles) or Skeleton Point (3 miles) on the South
What are some of the best activities to partake in at the Grand Canyon?
Learning about the California Condor, geology, or human history at Grand Canyon from one of our ranger talks. One of my favorites is on the raven- what smart birds!
What’s there to do at the park at night?
Stargazing! Every year in June the park holds a Star-Party on both rims. This weeklong event brings professional and amateur astronomers to the park- where visitors can learn about the night sky. I moved to Grand Canyon from the east coast. I had never seen the milk way until I got out here.
Besides hiking, what are some other ways to experience the park?
People enjoy biking, riding a mule or taking a guided jeep tour. Those who are interested can experience the park as part of a private or commercial rafting trip.
Most underrated trail?
The North Rim’s Widforss Trail follows the canyon for approximately 2.5 miles/4 kilometers, then heads into the forest to emerge at Widforss Point—a distance of 5 miles/8 kilometers one way.
Shhh…I don’t like to camp! But I know people love the experience of camping at Indian Garden or Bright Angel Campgrounds in the inner canyon. Camping at the North Rim Campground is also extremely popular!
What’s your favorite time of year at the park?
I love fall moving into winter.
Best time of day at the park?
Early morning when light begins to appear. I like to grab a cup of coffee and stroll along the rim.
Something you wish more Grand Canyon visitors would do?
Slow down! The canyon isn’t going anywhere. Relax and appreciate the beauty, the history, the grandeur. Be safe getting to the park, be safe in the park, be safe going home!
Best tips for making the most of your Grand Canyon experience.
- Bring a reusable water bottle and take advantage of the fresh spring water.
- We have winter! Make sure that if you visit between November and March you have appropriate clothing. If you are driving you, prepare to drive in the snow.
- Buy an annual pass/senior pass. There are fee machines in the gateway towns of Williams, Valle and Tusayan. Cars with passes can use express entrance lanes.
- Use the free shuttle bus that picks up from multiple stops in Tusayan. No stress over finding a parking spot or waiting in the entrance gate lines.
The biggest mistake visitors make?
- Taking too much stuff or not wearing the right clothes/footwear. Rangers have seen people in heels, pulling luggage, large coolers, you name it!
- Be realistic about what you might need if you are hiking. What you hike in has to hike out with you.
- Not following guidance from rangers about best times to hike, picking a hike that is beyond their ability.
- Trying to hike to the river and back out in 1 day
- Not being aware of their surroundings
One piece of equipment every Grand Canyon hiker should bring.
Appropriate footwear and a water bottle/hydration pack. I think hiking poles are a must! They saved me hiking out!
The #1 thing every Grand Canyon visitor should do.
Stand on the rim, take a deep breath and just take a minute to realize how majestic this place truly is.
Big thanks to Kirby for sharing her insight! Have you visited the Grand Canyon? What made your trip unique? Any memorable moments? Share in the comments.
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